Hundreds of fantastic novels, essays and other writings have been penned about Nazi Germany. Gruesome, shocking portrayals of what went on in the concentration camps, how many lives were lost, the aftermath and prospect of dealing with indescribable grief that followed.
But The Diary of Anne Frank is not about any of those things. Instead, it takes us inside the mind of a young girl before the real horrors take place. We do not read about any of the truly inhuman acts committed within the walls of the camps, and yet this is the most enduring portrait, the most famous work to come out of that place and time.
Why is that? Time to think back to everything you learned in your AP Psychology class. The likely reason that we are so attached to this particular story is because we are, on the whole, driven by fear. Most of us are more likely to get off our butts and get a job if we ever have cause to find ourselves suddenly fearful of starvation or poverty than we are motivated by the rewards that can be reaped by gainful employment. Many of us sabotage relationships or begin pulling away out of fear that we are going to be rejected ourselves, or that things are going to run off course for one reason or another.
In short - we are all well aware of the horrifying nature of the camps, but we relate and connect more with that dread that came before it. Hardly any of us have experienced anything remotely like what the victims of the Holocaust went through, so we have a tough time fathoming how they felt (we’re going to go out on a limb and say ‘not good’). However, we can absolutely understand the sense of imminent danger, the claustrophobic, consuming onset of unmitigated fear.
Anne was a girl like many of us (yes, we know some of you are boys - you get the idea). She had her studies, a major crush, drama with her parents, etc. Because we are easily able to see so much of ourselves in her, it is all the more jolting and petrifying to imagine ourselves being snatched from our cushy little lives and thrown into the hell that Anne had to endure. Never mind being bogged down by your ACT Prep - Anne was much more preoccupied with dodging Nazis and trying to stay sane while bombs exploded outside her window.
Our culture also has a pretty sick attraction to fear, and you have to wonder how much of our interest in Anne’s story is out of some sort of morbid fascination. We go on roller coasters, see scary movies, jump out of airplanes. Disturbing though it may be to consider, is a part of us drawn into Anne’s story because we experience some kind of rush by observing such a terrifying world through her eyes?